Is Technology Good or Bad for Us? (Part One)

October 4, 2011 — 4 Comments

Television

Part 1 of a 5-part blog series

As I travel and speak to students, teachers, parents, and corporate leaders, I am asked whether I think technology is good or bad for our culture.

My answer? Yes. 

Kids today belong to a generation that has never known a world without hand-held and networked devices. According to author Anya Kamenetz, “American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media, about the same amount of time they spend in school.”  What’s more, because kids have grown up multi-tasking they can cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. That’s more than a day at a full-time job. The truth is, it’s a new day. We have to figure out how to use this new world to grow a new generation.

Let me remind of you of something.

Back in the 1960s, people bemoaned the vices of television. The American public became aware of how much time can be wasted in front of the tube, and worse, how damaging the violence, language and suggestive behavior can be to children. Eventually, however, some smart people began creating shows like “Captain Kangaroo” then “Sesame Street” and later “Blues Clues.”

Based on research, producers recognized there were virtues in what many assumed was an “evil” medium. From “Sesame Street’s” debut in 1969, it changed the prevailing mindset about a new technology’s potential. People began to realize TV is neutral. It can be used for destructive or constructive purposes. Bingo.

The same is true for today’s new technology.  Handheld and network devices are at the same turning point, with an important distinction: they can be tools for expression and connection, not just passive absorption.

Last Monday, USA Today carried a front-page article called, “Sesame Street as a Science Primer.” The children’s TV show is creating episodes that give American kids a leg up in math and science. This decision is in response to a report showing these subjects are ones that U.S. kids are falling behind in when compared to test scores internationally. (Instead of leading the way, we’re now ranked 23rd in science and 30th in math when compared to other industrialized nations.) Research compiled by Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project found that Sesame Street helps kids school-readiness and that much of the academic advantage lasts through high school. So—they’re simply scratching where the itch is. I love it.

So, my question for you is this:

Instead of assuming certain technology is just bad for kids, can you find a way to utilize it for redemptive purposes? 

Tim

Click here to check out Part 2 of this series.

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